There must be some kind of rota at the Mail.
Last July there was Liz Jones, fashion/linkbait correspondent, sent off to report on Somalia. She’s so incompetent she couldn’t even sort out her jabs.
Then there in January it was Sue Reid’s turn. Cue lies about aid to India, based on a quick visit to a classroom, on the other side of the country from the project she was supposedly reporting on.
Now there’s Ian Birrell, in Ghana to follow up on a story about an American aid organisation, and British funding for it, which emerged a few weeks ago.
The headline screams:
How your money is being squandered: The African village where EVERY family is getting £7,500 from the British taxpayer.
The story concerns this five year project
in Northern Ghana, and a quick perusal of the Business Case shows that the nineteen word headline contains three lies:
1) The project is not in an African village. It covers 30 villages (see map on page 5 of Business Case)
2) The £7,500 per household figure is based, in the subsequent article, on the total 5 year project budget of £17.2 million divided by 2,250 households. But the 2, 250 figure has been dug out of the business case for those households where there will be “substantial poverty reduction”. Page 1 of the Business Case gives the real figure: “Up to 30,000 people will benefit directly from improved services and increased opportunities”.
3) The total value of the project is £17.2 million, of which £11.5 million comes from British Aid. The Business Case makes clear (para. 48) that the rest will come from the Ghanaian government ($4.5 million) and from the local communities through cash or in-kind labour ($3.0 million).
Taking 2) and 3) together, the cost of the five year project to the British aid budget is roughly £1,700 per household, less than a quarter of the figure in the headline.
Now, there is no doubt that this is still an expensive project in usual aid terms, not least because it has built into it “robust” independent monitoring and evaluation costing more than £1 million and higher than usual local management costs, which reflect the emphasis on developing local government and university capacity.
There are very valid doubts
about the ‘big push’ (para. 23) approach. The project, after all, is about testing whether this method, in which the kitchen sink of aid is thrown at very poor areas, is more effective than less targeted, less intensive approaches (or indeed than on aid at all).
There are also very valid questions, of the type set out by Matt Collinn at Aid Thoughts
and others, being asked about the dodgy use of data to justify the claims about the Millennium Villages’ success in other areas. It may well be that DfID has some questions to answer about the applicant’s suitability to the deliver the project, and about its own scrutiny processes.
But one poor aid project does not mean that aid is poor. To argue such, as Birell does, is the equivalent of saying that surgery should be stopped if one operation goes wrong, or that air travel should cease because one type of aircraft is found to be unsafe.
Questioning aid effectiveness, in the way the bloggers Birrell refers to, have been doing (though he does not have the courtesy to say where exactly he/the Daily Mail picked up the idea for his jolly to Ghana), is to be welcomed, if it is done properly and responsibly.
For Birrell to get out and about in Ghana to see for himself what’s happening is valid too. He’s a proper journalist, as far as I can tell (as opposed, say, to Liz Jones) and the article does give evidence of some journalistic nouse.
What is not valid, though, is for the Daily Mail simply to tell lies (even though it gives the brief right of reply at the end of the article, possibly from fear of legal action).
That’s just irresponsible, shoddy journalism.